Friday, September 11, 2009

The Kingdom of God Is Near What?

In the New Testament, Matthew 4:17 and Mark 1:15 both record that Jesus' first preaching topic was that the Kingdom of God was near. Acts 1:3 tells us Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God for 40 days after His resurrection, and Acts 1:7 records Jesus' second to last sentence He spoke on earth dealt with the time of the coming of the Kingdom of God. Sandwiched between these bookends of Jesus' earthly life you will find over a hundred references to the Kingdom of God within the four Gospel accounts.

The Old Testament never once uses the phrase “Kingdom of God”, but it does contain the concept of it in various forms. Here are just a few selections from many possible Old Testament examples of what God's Kingdom is: everything (Psalm 103:19), pre-exile Israel (1 Chronicles 28:5), or post-exile Israel (Isaiah 51:3-4). It is the last example which is tied into the New Testament's Kingdom of God, because many of the prophesies of the Prophets did not come completely true after the Jews returned from their Babylonian exile, and so the Jews were anxiously awaiting the fulfillment of these prophesies for prosperity of their nation, eternal peace, and many other blessings.

The Kingdom of God Is Near What?
When you read the Gospels, it almost seems like whenever Jesus was not performing miracles, giving moral teachings, or being crucified, He was talking about the “Kingdom of God”; elaborating on matters such as when will it be established, how you can get in, and what it is like.

Did Jesus know what He was talking about? If so, we should expect a fairly consistent viewpoint expressed throughout, as well as a meshing with the prophesies of the Old Testament (OT) with regard to this imminent Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God is Near
In a previous study where we focused more on the timing aspect, we observed that Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God would be established during that generation. So when the phrase “the Kingdom of God is near” is used (Matthew 3:2, Matthew 4:17, Matthew 10:7, Mark 1:15, Luke 10:9, Luke 10:11, Luke 21:31), it appears that “near” refers to time as opposed to location, as in the Kingdom of God would be established soon. This message of timing is fairly consistent throughout the Gospels and is echoed throughout the rest of the New Testament (NT), such as in Revelation 22:7.

There Will Be a Judgement
In that same previous study, we discussed some of the OT prophesies associated with the Kingdom. The Kingdom would be established with a big judgement, which Jesus' words also support (Matthew 10:14, Matthew 12:41-42, Matthew 13:41, Matthew 13:49-50, Matthew 16:27, Matthew 22:11-13, Matthew 23:35-36, Mark 8:38, Luke 9:26, Luke 10:10-11, Luke 11:31-32, Luke 11:50-51).

There Will Be Eternal Peace
The Kingdom is supposed to be eternally peaceful, and ruled from the throne of David too. Strangely, Jesus does not directly mention peace in the Kingdom, but Luke 1:32-33 does mention the eternal ruling from the throne of David. Jesus also mentions eternal consequences, both good (Matthew 19:16-30, Mark 10:17-31, Luke 10:25-28, Luke 16:9, Luke 18:18-30, John 3:14-16, John 3:36, John 4:13-14, John 4:36, John 5:24, John 6:27, John 6:35-58, John 6:68, John 8:34-36, John 10:28, John 12:25, John 12:49, John 14:16, John 17:2-3) and bad (Matthew 18:8, Matthew 25:41, Mark 3:29, Mark 9:43-48).

On a side note, did you notice how often John's Gospel mentions eternal life compared to the other Gospels? While it permeates John, it is scarcely mentioned in the others. This huge difference could easily be explained if John is a fabrication instead of a true account of an eye witness, or if the other three Gospels are complete fabrications.

Parable of the Growing Seed
In Mark 4:26-29, Jesus explains that the Kingdom of God is like a man that seeds his field, the seeds sprout and grow without the man, and then the man harvests his field when the grain is ripe. This parable only makes sense when referring to the constituents of the Kingdom, not the Kingdom itself. The man would be like a preacher, the seeds the people who receive the Gospel, and the ripe grains are the converted Christians or people ripe for conversion.

This parable seems a little contradictory to the message that “the Kingdom of God is near”, because it instead suggests that the Kingdom is already here and is slowly growing. If instead Jesus had said “the Kingdom of God is beginning” or “come be a part of the growing Kingdom of God” then this parable would seem more accurate.

Parable of the Mustard Seed
Jesus provides a parable about the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-34, Luke 13:18-19), where the Kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed which then grows to be the biggest garden herb. That yields some interesting implications. Common explanations of this parable take a form that the mustard seed represents the Gospel news spreading from a small, humble beginning into a massive Kingdom of believers.

This parable implies that the pre-Jesus prophesies with regard to God's Kingdom were of little to no value, and instead the advancement of the Kingdom started with Jesus. And, again, this parable seems to suggest a growing constituency of an existing Kingdom as opposed to a coming Kingdom.

Perhaps even more interesting is the implication that there are other herbs in the garden coexisting with the mustard, or in other words, that there are other kingdoms which will coexist with God's Kingdom, but God's will be the biggest kingdom. Coincidentally, while it is not widely advertised, there are verses from some OT prophesies which would support the idea of multiple kingdoms peacefully coexisting with God's Kingdom, such as Isaiah 66:19, Jeremiah 33:9, and Micah 4:2-5.

Parable of the Yeast
In Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:20-21, Jesus is recorded as saying that the Kingdom is like yeast which a woman worked into dough. Most Christian commentators take this to mean that the yeast is the Gospel message, and from a small source that message spreads to the entire world, or at least spreads to the Elect as represented by the lump of dough.

Consider a somewhat more literal, and more amusing, interpretation: The Kingdom of God is like a spreading fungus which converts what is pure and sweet (sugar) into something which causes some men to act irrationally (alcohol) while discharging waste products (carbon dioxide).

Of course, like the two parables above, this speaks of enlarging the constituency of a Kingdom which already exists, not about a Kingdom which was about to become established. At least this point of view is internally consistent, and depending on your interpretation of “the Kingdom of God is near” as well as the rest of the plan for the Kingdom, it is not necessarily contradictory.

Something Involving Demons
When the Pharisees called into question the authority by which Jesus drove out demons, Jesus replies that if He drives out demons with God's help, then the Kingdom of God has come to them (Matthew 12:22-28, Luke 11:14-20).

So somehow driving demons out a few people means that the Kingdom of God has come? Well, no. That's not at all what the OT prophesies predicted. Perhaps this was meant to be a warning, to tell the Pharisees that Jesus casting out demons through the power of God was a sign that the return of God ruling Israel was imminent, but the Kingdom has not yet come...

Here It Is, or There It Is? Neither and Never.
There is one final stop on our tour of the Kingdom of Jesus. It is the Kingdom of Jesus, because, as you will see, Jesus has stopped describing the Kingdom of God. Examine Luke 17:20-21:
    Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the Kingdom of God is within you." NIV
In other words, the Pharisees ask when will the Kingdom of God come, to which Jesus replies (seemingly to a different question altogether) that they will not see it because it will not be in some location, but rather it will be inside people (at least for the Elect). In this sense, the Kingdom of God is supposed to be the peace and joy that comes with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

It is rather silly that Jesus would have used the expressions “Here it is” and “There it is” because there was no question about where the Kingdom of God was to be. All of the OT prophesies reference this Kingdom as being centered in Jerusalem. Nobody would have questioned where it was. “When” was the question, not where. Jesus avoided answering that question, or perhaps instead suggested that it already existed.

More importantly, this is blatantly inconsistent with the OT prophesies. For instance, Isaiah 2:4 talks about this peace as a worldly peace as we would recognize it today, turning swords into plowshares and having no more wars, not as some warm and fuzzy inner peace. In turn, it is also inconsistent with the NT verses which concur with the OT prophesies, including some of the words of Jesus which we discussed above.

When you sum all of this information up, you get an interesting picture. You can see that Christianity tied itself to the OT prophesy to give it some intrinsic credibility. However, it also worked to redefine the common interpretation of those prophesies. Anything which could be applied to Jesus was kept intact, or at least included with biased and out-of-context relation (as we have seen in previous studies). Anything relating to the coming Kingdom of God was subdivided into two components (as we have seen in this study).

The first component of the redefined Kingdom was that of a growing spiritual constituency. This component internally changes people; bringing them into the Kingdom in the sense of being residents there, or at least future residents there.

The second component of the redefined Kingdom is actually the rest of the OT prophesies which have not yet been fulfilled. This is the actual physical manifestation of the Kingdom on earth (or maybe the “new earth”) where everyone will live in peace, experience no pain, etc.

While that two-part philosophy may have worked back in ancient time, it stands off as somewhat ridiculous now. Why ridiculous? Because none of the OT prophesies prophesied any waiting period, growing period, or maturing period for the Kingdom. They pretty much suggest that the Kingdom was coming in a serial progression; a Messiah shows up, God doles out judgement, Israel becomes eternally peaceful and prosperous. In fact, when you look at the OT prophesies in their actual context, such as Isaiah 51, they tend to suggest that the Kingdom was coming when the Israelites returned from their Babylonian exile.

Think about it. Why would God give a prophesy of something that was going to happen 2000 years (or more) after a different major event was going to happen without any mention of how long it would take? In other words, why would God give a prophesy about Jesus' second coming and the associated establishment of the Kingdom in the OT when God did not provide any OT prophesy in regards to waiting for a fungal bloom to populate the Kingdom before it would actually show up?

The original OT prophesies overshoot Jesus by about 2000 years, at least so far. To put this in perspective, most Bible scholars suggest that King David ruled Israel around 1000 BC. So now, the time from when supposedly Jesus died to today has been about twice as long from when God promised David that his lineage would rule Israel forever to when Jesus supposedly walk the earth. It appears that the Kingdom of God is near never.


  1. "The Kingdom of God" is one of those phrases that, I think, shows how our use of language has changed so much.

    Great post again, WF. A couple ideas popped up as I read this. Just conversational bits to add on to your conclusion.

    Parable of the Growing Seed: your paraphrases of "beginning" or "growing" rather than "near" may point out differences in language compared to today. I'm no ancient Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic guy, but I would bet a lot of that symbolic meaning was lost with the use of the word "near". Tempted to do a couple searches now and see why 'near' was chosen.

    Parable of the Mustard Seed: a neat explanation I've heard is that the mustard plant at the time was considered a weed. It may be unwanted, but it's tenacious and driven (motivated?) and disrupts the ruling order. The plurality of kingdoms idea is interesting, I haven't thought much before about how a garden would have many different plants.

    Parable of the Yeast: I like the literal explanation - the sweet, or what we want, does tend to make people/men act irrationally, and does tend to make us emit rather strange sounds...

    1. Thanks again Andrew!

      You are too right to touch on the point of language, and it is one of my weaknesses as well. I struggle with English, let alone Hebrew and Greek! I am sure I have fumbled along the way on this blog because of it.

      You made me curious about "near" as well. I think I had looked it up at the time. In the Greek it comes from Ä“ngiken. It gets used in Matthew 26:25-26 to say that Jesus' own end time was near, and that His betrayer, Judas, was near. It seems like you could make a reasonable translation to say "coming at any moment now."

      That is interesting about the Mustard Seed parable. I have heard probably a dozen or so different version, but I have not run across that one!

      Yeah, they do not talk much about the plurality of kingdoms in the Christian version of the afterlife, but it is reasonably clear in several of the OT prophesies. (I would like to do a series on the OT prophesies, but I have not gotten around to it yet.)

      Gotta love yeast!

  2. Just to go a little further on the mustard seed/tree parable, Jesus ends with saying something about how the "birds of the air" nest in the branches. Some believe the 'birds of the air' was a colloquialism of the time for gentiles, or non-jewish nations. I think I got this off Bill Peddie's site (a "Progressive Christian" minister) but I haven't really confirmed this use.

    So this has been used to show how Jesus was 'foreseeing' the gentile future of christianity. More symbolically though, what is sown isn't just for the sower, or the inside group. Everything is affected by the weed. And everyone mooches, even nature :-)

    1. "And everyone mooches, even nature"

      Ha! I had heard of the bird metaphor before, although I was under the thought that it was a metaphor from earlier Scripture, as opposed to a colloquialism. It seems to me to be a real stretch, but I would have to do a little more digging before I completely can that idea. Peddie(?) seems to be doing a good job weaving a cohesive story, even if it is not true!

  3. Interesting thoughts WF. I've enjoyed your blog and your questioning.

    Going back to basics, how's this for a thought process... If a kingdom is literally the place where a king rules, then the Kingdom of God is wherever God rules.

    So if a person allows the values of the kingdom to permeate their thinking and guide their actions (saying God rules in their life) then could it not be said that the Kingdom of God is within them. If this then determines how they act and conduct their relationships (and so has an outward expression) then maybe it could be said that the Kingdom of God is near/at hand/among you. So the manifestation of Kingdom of God then becomes the inevitable result of people acting in accordance with the values of the kingdom.

    This view of things really helps me to make sense of what Jesus taught. However, if the Kingdom of God is understood to be defined in space and time (like an earthly kingdom) or what it will be like when it all comes to an end, then I find it much harder to make sense of it.

    Keep it up!

  4. Hello Sam, and welcome to the blog! Please feel free to comment any time.

    I have to say, that is one of the better explanations I have encountered, so thank you for posting that! I do not think it meshes well with the Old Testament prophesies, but for what it is, I like it.

    I hope you will have the will and desire to post more comments, Sam, as time permits.

  5. I think it may not mesh with a traditional interpretation of the OT but what happens if we assume it's right and look again...?

    As ever, still more questions than answers! Isn't that what keeps us coming back?


  6. Oh, Sam, I am not so certain that is the best strategy if you are aiming for the truth. You want to begin with as few assumptions as necessary. If you just assume that Christianity is right, you will mentally pound square pegs into round holes as you read the Old Testament (OT).

    Jesus seemed to suggest that all of the OT prophesy was about Him. If so, we should be able to read it and have the connections be obvious, for the most part, and there should not be any content that contradicts Christianity.

    I will warn you, it may get ugly for you if you follow up on those questions without assumptions. So, if you value your Christianity higher than you value the truth, I would not advise digging deeper. Once you start digging, it may be hard to stop.

    If you would like a taste of what I am referring to, read from Ezekiel 38 on to the conclusion of that book, and compare it against Christianity. At first, it will seem like a good match, but that does not last.

    If you look over in the right on the links, you will find "The Bible Summary." I have written chapter-by-chapter summaries as unbiased as I could. You may wish to refer to these for faster reading.